10 months after Sidewalk Labs walked away, Toronto resumes its search for a private partner to revitalize 12-acre waterfront site

In Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Quayside is a waterfront district that has long been slated for redevelopment. Formerly devoted to dockland and industrial uses, the Waterfront Toronto government agency intends for a new housing development to be built between the East Bayfront and Port Lands neighborhoods, a site comprising 4.9 hectares (12 acres) of land.

Until last year, a “smart city” project was in the planning stages, proposed by Sidewalk Labs, a struggling subsidiary of Alphabet Inc. (parent company of Google), dubbed Sidewalk Toronto.

The largely-abandoned Quayside area, with Sidewalk labs’ former “City of the Future” site shown on the right. Photo by booledozer via Wikipedia.

Several factors were involved, but it was primarily resistance from local citizens that motivated Alphabet to cancel the project on May 7, 2020.

Many locals didn’t feel comfortable giving this giant American corporation with so much power over the future of their city, and few trusted Google with the large amounts of data the “smart” technologies would gather on residents and visitors. Their tech might have been smart, but Sidewalk’s strategy—assuming they had one—apparently could have been more intelligent.

In his May 7, 2020 announcement of the cancellation of their “City of the Future” project, Sidewalk Labs CEO Daniel L. Doctoroff said, “The Quayside project was important to us, and this decision was a difficult one. We are grateful to the countless Torontonians who contributed to the project, and for the support we received from community groups, civic leaders, and local residents. Sidewalk Labs was attracted to Toronto by the diversity, growth, and opportunity the city has to offer, and that view has been affirmed and strengthened at every step along the way. Toronto is one of the world’s great centers of technological innovation, and nothing about this decision will in any way diminish that.

Redevelopment of the site is currently on hold until a new private partner can be found.

The derelict Victory Soya Mills Silos on the Quayside site. Photo by SimonP via Wikipedia.

Now, on March 10, 2021, Waterfront Toronto launched an international competition to secure a redevelopment partner for the Quayside lands.

The first step in this effort was to issue a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to identify potential development proponents with the proven experience, design portfolio, financial resources, and shared vision necessary to bring Quayside to reality.

The Quayside site totals 4.9 hectares (12 acres), including 3.2 hectares (8 acres) of developable land across five redevelopment blocks. It is one of the last undeveloped expanses of land, and it’s very close to Toronto’s downtown.

The area is bounded by Gardiner Expressway to the north, Bonnycastle Street to the west, Queen’s Quay East and east by Victory Soya Mills Silos. While the area east of the Parliament Slip is vacant—other than berthing for Toronto Harbour Cruises ships—a number of low rise businesses reside along the north side of Queen’s Quay East. Waterfront Toronto has estimated the value of the land alone at CA$590 million.

The parcels of land included in the project are:

  • Quayside Development Block;
  • Parliament Development Lands; and
  • 333 Lake Shore Boulevard East, the site of the derelict Victory Soya Mills Silos, and now parking lot (since 1996).

Rendering courtesy of Day Communications.

Through the RFQ stage of this competition, a short list of proponents will be selected to participate in the Request for Proposals (RFP) to select a winning development team that will deliver a dynamic, inclusive and resilient community, including new affordable and market rate housing, and the conditions for a diversity of businesses to succeed.

The people of Toronto have told us that they want to see a bold vision realized on the waterfront that reflects the confident, welcoming, and imaginative civic spirit of our city,” said Stephen Diamond, Chair of the Board for Waterfront Toronto.

We are looking for leaders in the development field that will share our ambition to create a place that fuses Quayside to the water, and provides more beauty, utility, and originality than previously imagined. We want Quayside to be timeless, adaptive, and to propel us into our rightful place among the great waterfronts of the world,” Diamond concluded.

Quayside will usher in a new chapter in Toronto development. It will remind people of everything they want from living in the city and demonstrate what is possible when vision, passion, and design excellence are brought together.

Quayside will be a sustainable community for people of all ages, backgrounds, abilities and incomes. A place providing market and affordable housing options for individuals and families. It will offer opportunities for aging in place, including the supports and amenities that will allow seniors to live independently. Inclusive economic development opportunities will create jobs and spaces for business owners that reflect Toronto’s diversity.

Waterfront Toronto’s vision for Parliament Slip is a signature piece of the project and delivers on the Corporation’s promise to reorient the city to the water.

Quayside is an opportunity to reimagine a stronger economic future and create a post-pandemic landmark community that addresses many of the vulnerabilities that the COVID-19 crisis has exposed,” said George Zegarac, CEO for Waterfront Toronto.

The past year has driven people apart, when they’d rather be together. We’ll know we have been successful when anyone who’s ever thought about moving away from the city looks at Quayside and remembers every reason they wanted to live in Toronto in the first place,” Zegarac added.

Waterfront Toronto was established by the Government of Canada, the Province of Ontario and the City of Toronto to oversee and lead the renewal of the city’s waterfront. It is mandated to deliver a revitalized waterfront that brings together the most innovative approaches to sustainable urban development, excellence in urban design, real estate development, and leading technology infrastructure.

The RFQ Submission deadline is May 12, 2021. Waterfront Toronto aims to select a winning proponent before the end of 2021.

Featured rendering (by Standard Practice) shows a possible vision of what the fully redeveloped Quayside could look like.

View the RFQ.

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